By GRACE DENNIS
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge in the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love,” Galatians 5:13.
Service is one of the most important aspects of the Christian faith. As followers of God, we are called to love and serve one another without ceasing.
Specifically, through the principles of Catholic social teaching, Catholics are not only urged, but required to serve those in need. Showing kindness and compassion to all without judgment or question is the mission of a Christian, and this is easily done through service.
One of the many amazing service opportunities available to us as students is service trips. Alternative Break Service Trips, or ABSTs, and Gannon Inspired Faculty-Led Travel, also known as the GIFT program, are a few of the opportunities we have here for travel with a focus on service.
This past spring break, I had the opportunity to go to Immokalee, Fla., through the GIFT program.
This semester, I am taking a course called Catholic Social Teaching Immersion taught by Dr. Jimmy Menkhaus.
Throughout this semester so far we have been studying the lives of immigrants and the hardships they face in this country, particularly those of migrant farmworkers.
During the winter months, 90 percent of America’s tomatoes come from Immokalee, Fla., where migrant farmworkers are slaving away to pick this fruit from sunrise to sundown, facing radically low wages, extreme physical and sexual abuse in the workplace and general disregard of basic humanity.
There have also been several cases of modern-day slavery surrounding these individuals.
Thanks to Menkhaus and Gannon, my class was able to travel to Immokalee for spring break and work with several organizations that focus their efforts on helping these individuals, hoping to make better lives for these people.
We had the opportunity to work with Guadalupe Social Services, Redlands Christian Migrant Association, which is a school for children, iTECH: Immokalee Technical College, a school that offers English classes for migrants, Habitat for Humanity, Immokalee Soccer School and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, or the CIW, is an organization started by migrant farmworkers for migrant farmworkers.
They work toward reaching justice for these workers in all aspects of their lives and situations.
The CIW even started the Fair Food Agreement and has managed to get major companies like Taco Bell and Walmart to sign it, meaning they’re agreeing to only buy produce from fair farms.
While we were there, we listened to an outstanding presentation on the CIW regarding its origin, its mission and everything it stands for.
We were then able to work with them on preparing for their next big action plan, a protest taking place in New York City this week in an attempt to get Wendy’s to sign the Fair Food Agreement since it has yet to do so.
Through the CIW and many speakers that we had the opportunity to hear from, we learned so much about the lives of these workers, more than we could’ve ever learned by just studying this subject in a classroom in Erie.
By meeting these people and working directly with them, serving them and learning from them, our hearts only grew with fire and passion for social justice.
I am forever grateful that I attend a university that allows me to live out this key part of my faith while learning so much about important and relevant issues of today.
This experience is one I will never forget, as is the case for most individuals who participate in something of this nature.